Jack Wilshere. Arsene Wenger is no stranger to nurturing potential talent into finished world-class players. He now has another young prodigy on his hands in the form of Jack Wilshere. The right-sided midfielder earned a multitude of plaudits during his performance in the European Under-17 Championships, especially in England’s game against Holland, where he terrorised the Dutch defence. Ironically his main competition for a place on the right wing is another young gun, Theo Walcott. A major headache for Wenger may ensue. The French manager will be wary of exposing the 17-year-old Wilshere to the toil of regular football quite yet. If he is given the chance to shine he will unquestionably be a success at the Emirates.
Michael Mancienne. Wolverhampton Wanderers have snapped up the 21-year-old defender on a season-long loan deal from Chelsea. Mancienne impressed Mick McCarthy when he spent a spell at Molineux before Christmas and now has the chance to play regular football with a surprise call up to next year’s World Cup on the cards. Fabio Capello is a keen admirer of the England under-21 regular, a sentiment displayed when he surprisingly promoted Mancienne to senior squads for the match against Germany in Berlin last year. He is held in high regard at Stamford Bridge too, appearing four times last season including the second round Champions League tie against Juventus. In a gesture of faith towards Mancienne, Chelsea offered the defender a new four-year contract.
Jack Rodwell. In the 1990’s it was the red half of Liverpool that was producing future England international on a regular basis with players such as Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard. In the naughties Merseyside has seen a reversal of fortunes with Everton producing one of the most exciting English talents at this moment in time: Wayne Rooney. Now the Toffee fans have a new local hero in 18-year-old Jack Rodwell. He made his first team debut at the tender age of 16 and since has gone on to make 21 appearances for the club. He produced some accomplished performances for England in the European Under-21 Championships this summer, orchestrating from centre midfield. A very versatile player, Everton manager David Moyes will be looking to keep hold of this homegrown talent.
Jack Collison. A product of the famed West Ham United Youth Academy, Collison is another youngster impressing on the Premier League stage after a line of glittering stars before him. He was poached from Peterborogh United’s youth in 2005 and, under the guidance of academy director Tony Carr, has advanced through the youth system making 22 appearances for the Hammers. Ironically it was an impressive substitute performance against Manchester United that stopped the Welsh international moving back to Peterborogh on loan with Zola seeking to utilise Collison as the Italian steered West Ham clear of relegation. Collison went on to star consistently for the London side throughout the rest of the season, scoring three goals and earning a call up to the Welsh setup.
Daniel Sturridge. In an extraordinary move, Sturridge snubbed a new contract offer from cash-rich Manchester City, instead opting to sign for Chelsea. The 19-year-old striker starred in 2 FA Youth Cup finals for City, scoring twice in the 2006 final against Liverpool. The two seasons later he helped City win the cup scoring a goal in the first leg of the final. He is quick, confident and a goal scorer. Last season he appeared sporadically throughout the season for City, scoring on five occasions. Chelsea has clearly seen the potential in the youngster from Birmingham and he will provide cover for Didier Drogba should the Ivorian Coast striker fall injured. City may rue the moment Sturridge left the club.
Ryan Babel. For too long Ryan Babel has underperformed for Liverpool since arriving from Ajax in 2007 for £11.5 million. The player Dutch legend Marco Van Basten branded the new Thierry Henry has failed to impose himself at Anfield, and the Premier League for that matter. Often victim to Rafa Benitez’s much criticised rotation system, Babel may argue that he hasn’t been handed a continuous run of appearances in the Liverpool side in order to make a real impact. The truth of the matter is since his arrival on Merseyside he has taken a step backward. This season, Benitez will place more faith in the Dutch winger and will hand him a sustained run in the starting line-up. This could be the season where Ryan Babel finally fulfills his brimming potential.
Antonio Valencia. Sir Alex Ferguson has been extremely careful in not lavishly wasting the funds raised from the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo. Many Manchester United fans would have expected United to sign Franck Ribery or Karim Benzema with the Ronaldo money, but Ferguson instead opted for Antonio Valencia. The winger arrived from Wigan Athletic where he made a name for himself, becoming a key player in Steve Bruce’s side. The Ecuadorian is more versatile than Ronaldo and possesses a better work ethic. Valencia has been earmarked to succeed at Old Trafford. He will be given time to settle in. Once the right-winger does, he should soon become an important player in this United side.
Theo Walcott. After the shock call up from Sven Goran Eriksson to the England World Cup squad in 2006, Walcott’s inclusion received unfair criticism by the British press for a poor tournament by Eriksson’s men. Since then Walcott has built a good reputation on his performances at club level with Arsenal. Arsene Wenger increasingly trusts the 20-year-old in Arsenal’s big games as Walcott matures into an Arsenal regular. He starred in England’s demolition of Croatia in 2008 scoring three of England’s four goals. In 63 appearances, Walcott has only scored on six occasions, a record which he will be looking to improve upon this season.
Nathan Delfuoneso. The 18-year-old is rated highly by all at Aston Villa picking up the club’s Young Player of the Year award last season. A regular for the reserve team at Villa Park this season should see Delfuoneso feature for the first team on a regular basis as Aston Villa push for a European place once again. The player wears the number 14 shirt in honour of his idol Thierry Henry and bears many similarities to the French ace. He is blessed with quick acceleration, is extremely agile and has good technique. He has made 13 appearances under Aston Villa boss Martin O’ Neill and scored two goals in Villa’s UEFA Cup campaign last year, plus a single goal in their FA Cup run.
Gareth Bale. Since signing from Southampton in 2007 for over £5 million, Bale has struggled to settle at White Harte Lane. The Welsh left-back has failed to secure a regular spot in the starting line up and looks a shadow of the player who earned rave reviews when playing for the Saints. Three managers in as many years clearly hasn’t helped the 20-year-old’s progress but Harry Redknapp is a manager renowned for being able to get the best out of his players. Bale has played in a remarkable 24 games for Spurs without being in the winning side and that will be the first lousy record he will be looking to break this season. A player with a gifted left foot, he could flourish under Redknapp provided he can rebuild his confidence with regular solid performances for the London side. This could be his breakthrough year.